It’s the time of the year, when it gets really difficult to choose between looking forward and looking back. There is nothing like making plans, creating goals and thinking of all these new opportunities next year will bring your way, of course, but December is also a month of memories and summaries. And though 2018 definitely had some lows (dear immune system, just so you know, I hate you!), I must admit, looking back at everything that happened to us in the past 12 month makes me incredibly happy and proud. Here are a few highlights I really-really can’t resist going through once again.
Exploring South Island with my family
Our year started with a big roadtrip from Auckland all the way down to Queenstown. Not only was it our first time to see the glorious ‘big brother’ of the two main New Zealand islands but we also got to share this experience with my sister and her husband. It was their first time in New Zealand and we haven’t seen them for 1,5 years! Can you imagine the level of excitement? I can’t believe how many places and activities did we manage to squeeze in a short 10 days trip (well, actually, I can – it involved waking up before sunrise and long-long drives nearly every day). Milford Sound, Tasman Glacier, Lake Tekapo, That Wanaka Tree, Clay Cliffs – these places are nature’s masterpieces and nothing can beat the emotions you feel, when finally standing face-to-face with such significant sights of our country. But if I had to choose only one place that totally blew my mind, it would be Kaikoura. We were staying in the quirkiest accommodation ever, where llamas were waking us up every morning by staring at us through the window and an outdoor bathtub appeared to be the best spot to indulge into freshly made BBQ. And of course, the impressive history of the region, how it’s coming back to life after the severe earthquake of 2016, getting up close and personal with wild seals (I would rather the one that attacked Alex and I when we were filming to be a wee bit less up close and personal, to be honest!) and those epic views… Truly is Kaikoura a very special destination!
Travelling back to Russia
Our next big trip didn’t happen until May 2018, when we flew to Moscow to visit our family and friends. They are the only thing we really miss about the life we left behind, so we were happy to hug our dearest ones again. But our explorers’ spirit was whispering that there are also so many adventures awaiting ahead. After all, it was our first opportunity to look at our home city from a tourists’ perspective. And boy, did this perspective not disappoint! With FIFA World Cup fast approaching, already pretty capital of Russia became even more beautiful, polished and exciting to explore. After spending some time in New Zealand, it felt a bit weird to have all restaurants and supermarkets operating 24 hours per day, to be able to jump in a carsharing car wherever you are, to have unlimited Wi-Fi in the underground and public parks, to choose from soul cycle, reforming pilates and bungee workout as your today’s form of activity and to generally use all these technologies of the XXI century (don’t forget, it was BEFORE Uber and UBER Eats came to Tauranga. Can’t complain any more, haha!) Our long-time friends Skoda Russia also added to a positive impression of Moscow by letting us to drive their car. Finally, we have spent a few days in Saint-Petersburg, revisiting all over favourite palaces and even discovering some new all ‘gold-marble-precious stones’ houses and churches. It was magical!
On our way back home to New Zealand (which we both now absolutely honestly and confidently call our home), we had a few hours to explore Doha in Qatar. I doubt I can tell a lot about this city – we only took a short bus tour at night – but it certainly made me keen to see more. These small but extremely rich desert countries, like Qatar or more touristic Arab Emirates, are so different from anything else culture-wise, in architecture, in food and, of course, in activities. I mean, who wouldn’t want to ride a 4WD in a desert? So, definitely on a bucket list for now!
Our first cover!
After a month in Russia we came back to New Zealand right in time for the launch of our first cover story! Gosh, as a family of photographer and journalist we were definitely on cloud nine. Cover story and cover photo is a biggest achievement in industry and we’re so proud to be there in just under two years of living in the new country. We’re so thankful to Verve editors for their trust and ongoing support in what we do!
On a side note, I seriously consider 2018 to be the best year in my journalism career so far. Yes, my portfolio includes articles in Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire Russia and these behemoths of glossy mags might sound more impressive but trust me, if English is your second language, there is nothing like seeing your text in a local mag, especially when it’s published exactly the way you wrote it. I have to be honest, I waved good bye to writing, which was my biggest passion in life since I was 10, when we decided to move to an English-speaking country. Because writing is hard. Well, physically it’s not – we all can type. But trust me, there is so much more to that than just typing word after word. I’ve studied journalism for five years in the University, worked in famous glossy mags for another five and I’m still learning! I still borrow writing and journalism books in the library, underline best phrases and ideas in every single article I read, ask questions and enrol into different online courses. And of course, when learning how to write proper articles in native language took me so long, I could’ve never expected local editors to accept my articles written in English. And once again, New Zealand and local open-minded and kind people didn’t fail to surprise! Not only did we spot our articles and photos in seven different mags this year, at least five of my articles where published as is, simply proofread (which any journalist is perfectly fine with! I mean, commas, what’s wrong with you?! I’ll most probably never really figure out how to use them in English…) And for that I wanted to thank Verve editors Jude and Fran once again, as well as Vicki from Nourish. You guys are the best!
The Nourished Eatery x Alex Spodyneiko cookbook
Shortly after our first cover, it was time to greet the second creative baby of the year. Our dearest friend Sharna McElligott published her vegan cookbook ‘In Our Cabinet’. Guess who took all the photos for the recipes? Yup, you got it right – our very own Alex 🙂 Working with this girl is always the most awesome, funny and uplifting experience. There are these people that have a special light within, that make you feel warm and comfortable. And Shar is definitely one of them. We love you, galboss! And the book looks gorgeous.
Trip to Tasmania with BMW
Yet a little dizzy from joy of holding Sharna’s book in his hands, Alex received another life-changing offer – to travel with BMW to Tasmania for the launch of the new X5. Cars, roadtrips and test-drives were always a big part of our blog. From the most affordable Hyundai Solaris to the (overly)luxurious Rolls-Royce – we’ve driven them all. And of course, being back to testing and filming cars made him super excited. Add this being his first time in Australia. AND this offer being our first official formal press tour since moving to New Zealand (yes, we have collaborated with local hotels and Tourism Boards, but it was the first time we have received a proper invitation to a tour with all costs covered here) – and you should understand how happy but also extremely nervous he was. He couldn’t let our fav car manufacturer down! Stay tuned for his photos and videos, by the way!
In December we finally relaunched our website. It took us three months to do it but I have already described everything in details in this post. It’s definitely one of the most important events in 2018, not only because any updates motivate and inspire us and we’re now full of energy for the next year, but also because discussing design, key topics and new approach to articles and photos with Alex gave us so much clarity and understanding of where do we want to go with this project and, most importantly, how to get there. We’ve been doing that for God only knows how many years now and to be honest, I can’t imagine my life without constantly capturing everything we get to experience on cameras, without planning interesting activities to share with you and without our life on the road. Alex and I grew so much while growing this blog not only professionally but also personally. You’ll never see us argue or being mad at each other these days, we learned to be super comfortable in each others company 24/7, to support each other no matter what and to seek new adventures together. And we already have so many exciting projects planned for 2019, I’m doing my best to avoid spoilers now 🙂
‘Best travel blog in Oceania’
Wow, I must admit, it feels awkward writing about how cool and awesome we are… But there is something I’m so proud of and I’m not going to keep it to myself. theStyleJungle made it to quite a few exciting TOPs this year: most visited blogs in New Zealand, best travel blogs writing about New Zealand, etc. But there was one particular pinch-me moment that really stood out for us. We were reached out by British Tourism & Hospitality Awards. Every year this company does tremendous job to pick best destinations, hotels, restaurants, activities and bloggers on different continents. As a result, they publish seven magazines: about Europe, America, Asia, Middle East, Oceania, Africa and a separate one devoted to restaurants. And they have chosen theStyleJungle to represent Oceania in 2018! There is a huge four-pages interview with us in this guide and you can also read it online now (though in a slightly weird format). Seriously, how extraordinary is that?
Falling in love with New Zealand
Travelling around our beautiful country is hands down the highlight of the whole life for us. Both in our late twenties now, we feel the urge to live the life at its fullest, to be here and now, to enjoy, to breath, to soak in the reality and to fly free. And exploring New Zealand gives everything at once. Jumping into the car and heading off into the unknown is our type of happiness. After the grand South Island tour in January we have re-visited many favourite destinations – Hawke’s Bay, the Coromandel, Wellington, Auckland, Rotorua, Taupo to name a few, and explored new places like Taranaki and New Plymouth or Raglan. This year we’ve experienced so many really one of a kind activities: enjoyed cherry blossom season in Hamilton, celebrated International Hobbit Day in Hobbiton, discovered the 309 Road in the Coromandel and The Forgotten World Highway in Taranaki.
OMGeee, what a beauty of a year it was! A year of learning something new, of getting to know ourselves better and growing some self-love and confidence, a year of being present in the moment, a year we made so many new friends and discovered new destinations, a year we were failing badly in being more fit and sporty and a year we laughed so much it completely compensated the lack of crunches (I definitely felt my ABS!). And if you ask me, I wouldn’t have changed a second of it!
Merry Christmas and Happy 2019, lovely peeps!